Is Trump a goner?
The Clinton Organization’s oppo research capabilities are without peer in the world of American politics. The value of strategically timed embarrassing info on an opponent, leaked at the precisely correct moment, was proved in 2000 when Al Gore nearly won the presidency. The teetotaler candidate George W. Bush was exposed as having pleaded guilty to DUI two dozen years earlier, and that is reckoned to have depressed voter turnout, especially among evangelicals and those outraged by drunk drivers, enough to have made the difference.
The leak of an old hot mic recording of a private conversation between a TV host and Trump probably was originally scheduled for the Friday before Election Day. But the Wikileaks revelations about Hillary could not be allowed to dominate the weekend pre-debate chatter. The released tapes have now repelled enough people that Trump may not be able to recover. Unless they can somehow be moved to forgive him. Thanks to Wikileaks, there just may be time.
From a logical position, what Trump said is demeaning and insulting, and an unacceptable way for a male to express himself in public. The fact that this was not expressed in public matters not. The fact that Bill Clinton has said and done (on camera here) much worse also matters little.
We are talking about the modern presidency, where fitness for the role buddy-in-chief deriving from television is more important to many voters than the commander-in-chief responsibilities deriving from the Constitution. We have to live with the face of the POTUS in our living rooms, as the cliché reminds us. People want a president they can like.
Donald Trump, as he now exists in the public mind in the wake of the tape, is unlikable. So two possible countermeasures suggest themselves as the recourse for the Donald.
- Make himself likable, and/or
- Make the case that times require an honest SOB.
As far as number one goes, Trump has a long way to go. His unprecedented “apology” late last night won’t cut it. Scott Johnson of Powerline hits the nail on the head (as usual):
The apology takes a shortcut. When Trump says “there’s a big difference between the words and actions of other people,” he doesn’t quite complete the thought. He is saying the Clintons have said and done worse than he has said and done. He is saying that they have more for which to apologize than he does. It wasn’t a persuasive argument when we made it to our parents or we heard it from our kids and it’s not impressive from a candidate for the presidency of the United States.
Trump has to drop any reference to Bill Clinton being worse than he is. That is excusing his own bad behavior, which won’t persuade religious conservatives in particular. They are looking for confession and repentance. Honestly, I don’t know if Trump has it in him. But I do know that Trump has gotten to know well some of the nation’s leading preachers, people who understand the spiritual crises of sinners and the need for repentance.
If he is smart, Donald Trump will spend some of his debate preparation on his knees, praying for guidance and exploring the depths of his heart. Now, if Trump were to have a genuine spiritual awakening, it would be wonderful for him, his family, and his immortal soul. It would also be immediately scorned and disbelieved by many, maybe most people – as was, for instance, Chuck Colson, former Nixon hatchet man imprisoned in the wake of Watergate. Colson’s subsequent years of good works eventually earned him widespread acceptance, but a reformed sinner is instinctively distrusted for a long probationary period. Trump has less than a month.
That is no reason for Trump to stay off his knees today and tomorrow. And whatever verdict you, I, and everyone else come to on his sincerity, he needs to do this for his own good, well beyond any political concerns.
If he appears suitably self-critical and apologetic, mentioning his wife and his daughters and how ashamed he is before them, and he stresses that he has learned from his mistakes, there is at least a foot in the door, opening the possibility that he can then persuade voters that an honest, energetic, and courageous leader is demanded by the times. He needs to tell the country that we are in trouble, that the justice system has been fatally corrupted now that we all see that the powerful are held to a different standard from what the rest of us endure. He needs to argue that Russia is openly bullying us in Syria and in the Baltics, and China is grabbing control of critical sea lanes in Asia. We face hostile enemies who see us as weak. And of course, he needs to discuss the need to revitalize our economy.
Meanwhile, the “I’m one of the good Republicans” club that fear being tarred with Trump are doing their best to ensure that none of this works.